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Climate Deal May Be "Historic," But Changes Slow to Come

Some Oregon companies could use the U.N. climate agreement in Paris to share their clean-energy savvy with developing nations. (kconnors/morguefile)
Some Oregon companies could use the U.N. climate agreement in Paris to share their clean-energy savvy with developing nations. (kconnors/morguefile)
December 14, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. - The big climate agreement in Paris over the weekend is expected to have a variety of effects in Oregon and along the West Coast, although it may take a while to see them.

That's the view of Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. Brune was in Paris for the talks between representatives of 195 nations. The resulting plan is supposed to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

But Brune says for now, the West is stuck with a combination of wild weather, drought, fires and coastal sea-level rise.

"What we also know is that this agreement will begin to slow that down," says Brune. "It will begin to minimize the risk of it getting unsustainably worse. But it will not solve the problem."

Scientific reviews of the agreement say it reduces greenhouse gas emissions by only about half what is needed to keep global temperatures in check. But Brune calls it a promising, and even historic, start.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., also was in Paris, and said partnering with other nations will help accelerate research and keep driving down the cost of clean energy.

There's been some criticism of the agreement for providing financial help to countries that until now, haven't done much to help themselves reduce pollution. No specific dollar amounts were set, but Brune says it's an acknowledgement that every nation has a role to play.

And for U.S. businesses, helping to level the playing field could provide new opportunities.

"Every country in the world shares the same fate and now, every country in the world is sharing part of the burden," says Brune. "But what we're also seeing is an increased level of ambitions, in which countries are committing to do more, collectively, than they ever have."

Brune says U.S. participation in the United Nations climate agreement doesn't require congressional approval, although Congress or states could make it more difficult for the country to meet emissions targets, by defunding some efforts or through court challenges.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR